Words can’t begin to describe what it’s like to meet the surviving members of Carroll Shelby’s team that worked on the original GT40, and those who took it to the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race. It is a surreal and beyond chilling experience to be within feet of the car Ken Miles drove during the race.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the Original Venice Crew well and to drive one of their cars at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park in California. Gary Paterson and other members of the Shelby American team feel more like my family than anything else. I want to think I have become as close to the story as I could, without having lived through it and been there myself.
What I loved most about Twentieth Century Fox’s Ford v Ferrari, released in theaters on November 15th, is that director James Mangold brought history to life with the film.
While based on real events, the film receives inspiration from A.J. Baime’s 2009 book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans.
Carroll Shelby is played by Matt Damon, who, as the movie opens, circa the mid-1960s, gives up his driving career due to a heart condition after winning at Le Mans for Aston Martin. While managing his race team, Shelby takes on the seemingly impossible challenge of helping Ford develop a race car to beat Enzo Ferrari and win the 24-hour Le Mans race.
Shelby enlists the best driver and racing engineer he knows — the English-born, Los Angeles-based Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale. Bale brings Miles to life as a freewheeling, tea-loving bloke who understands the delicate mechanics of race cars inside and out, but struggles to interact with other human beings.
In the film, the GT40 Carroll and Ken initially develop together goes to Le Mans. Still, Ken’s prickly personality sees him left behind.
Racing enthusiasts and Ford fans know what happens next, but it should be a surprise to everyone else. And for those wondering, a remarkable amount of the film is accurate, with a few exaggerated embellishments that help move the story along and convey the friendship theme Mangold wanted to showcase.
Tracy Letts plays an arrogant Henry Ford II: his performance seems boisterous and enjoyably overdone at first — but shifts into the dark territory of vulnerability. The young Ford henchman and future Chrysler exec, Lee Iacocca, is wonderfully played by John Bernthal.
The production design of Ford v Ferrari is period-specific. It accomplishes a lived-in look: various radios and dials actually look used, rather than appear new or designed to look worn. The attention to detail is part of what makes this movie — shot by Phedon Papamichael — such a gorgeous-looking piece of work, complete with grease-stained garages and California sunsets.
And the racing scenes are spectacular to behold. Driving and racing enthusiasts will love the well-shot and edited movie stunt driving. In an interview with Matt Damon and Christian Bale, the men disclosed they did as much of the driving as they could, “but if we had done all of it, the race sequences would have been very slow and boring,” Bale said.
The cars themselves are jewel-like as they swerve and curve around twists and turns. Bale told us “they look good, they sound good, they smell good.” Sometimes they dramatically crash and explode. It’s always clear where one car is in relation to another; there’s no crazy slice-and-dice cutting or an endless amount of unnecessary gear shifts. The racing scenes have a fast and beautiful visual logic to them but never come across as furious.
Superformance created two cars used in the movie — the Ken Miles Hero Car driven by Christian Bale, and Bruce McLaren’s black GT40 that placed first at Le Mans in 1966.
The Ken Miles car was built at Superformance in Irvine, California. Superformance designed the car to ensure that every conceivable detail was accurate, in order to give it as authentic and correct an appearance as possible. Superformance did all of this before the car had even been selected for filming, however, all the attention to detail meant the Superformance GT40 was the car to be used for close up shots.
The GT40 is powered by a Roush 427IR V8 engine bored to 511ci, producing 604 horsepower and 572 lb-ft of torque. It’s topped with numerous performance features such as a K&N Inglese-style injection system and a rear-exit “Bundle of Snakes” exhaust. Power is sent through an RBT/ZF-style 5-speed manual transaxle.
Additionally, the GT40, adorned with its legendary blue livery, features a pressed steel roof and a unibody structure constructed of electro-galvanized steel. The independent front suspension hosts unequal-length A-arms, Bilstein shocks with H&R springs, and an anti-roll bar. Out back is an independent rear suspension with trailing arms, unequal-length lateral arms, Bilstein shocks with H&R springs, and an anti-roll bar.
Rack-and-pinion steering provides easy and accurate direction, while vented disc brakes withWilwood calipers easily bring speeds down. Rolling on Shelby American Halibrand-style wheels with knock-off hubs, the righthand drive car also features original-style seats covered in Alcantara with silver rivets, Smiths Instruments gauges, and a Moto-Lita steering wheel, among other fastidious details.
The car is signed by Ken Miles’ 1966 crew chief, Charlie Agapiou, and Ken Miles’ son, Peter Miles, and will be offered by Mecum Auctions at its 2020 Kissimmee sale in January.
Ford v Ferrari is a must-see for Ford fans and racing enthusiasts alike, as it is indeed a “moving movie,” gracefully honoring Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. Drive, don’t walk, to view it.